US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Estimating groundwater exchange with lakes: 1. The stable isotope mass-balance method
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Groundwater inflow and outflow contributions to the hydrologic budget of lakes can be determined using a stable isotope (180/160) mass balance method. The stable isotope method provides a way of integrating the spatial and temporal complexities of the flow field around a lake, thereby offering an appealing alternative to the traditional time and labor intensive methods using seepage meters and an extensive piezometer network. In this paper the method is applied to a lake in northern Wisconsin, demonstrating that it can be successfully applied to lakes in the upper midwest where thousands of similar lakes exist. Inflow and outflow rates calculated for the Wisconsin lake using the isotope mass balance method are 29 and 54 cm/yr, respectively, which compare well to estimates, derived independently using a three-dimensional groundwater flow and solute transport model, of 20 and 50 cm/yr. Such a favorable comparison lends confidence to the use of the stable isotope method to estimate groundwater exchange with lakes. In addition, utilization of stable isotopes in studies of groundwater-lake systems lends insight into mixing processes occurring in the unsaturated zone and in the aquifer surrounding the lake and verifies assumed flow paths based on head measurements in piezometers.